The Cost of Living Luxuriously in Chiang Mai

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We had heard the rumours that it’s possible to live in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand very cheaply. It’s one of the reasons that it’s such a popular destination for digital nomads and expats. And we found it to be true – it’s a very inexpensive place to live while maintaining a high standard of living.

Our friend Shannon from A Little Adrift shared her monthly expenses which come in at only $500 a month. This is definitely possible if you stick to a simple studio apartment without a kitchen and eat local street food.

But we aren’t very good at sticking to a rock bottom budget – we wanted a more comfortable apartment to work in, a kitchen to cook our own food, and although we do love Thai food we also like to splurge on the occasional Starbucks mocha frappuccino, pizza, or chocolate cake.

We haven’t worried too much about our spending since being in Chiang Mai. We chose an apartment we love, eat out when we want to, and have hired a motorbike to get around town quickly.

So how much does this rather luxurious lifestyle in Chiang Mai cost? These are our monthly expenses (in USD) for two people:

Monthly Expenses in Chiang Mai
Apartment rent $655
Electricity bill $49
Water bill $8
Internet $33
Food $492
Motorbike rental $79
Petrol $9
Entertainment $26
Total Monthly Expenses $1351 (£847) for 2 people

So what does $675 (£423) a month per person get us in Chiang Mai?

Apartment

Chiang Mai apartment
Our Chiang Mai apartment

We’ve already written about our search for a Chiang Mai apartment and how we ended up spending a lot more than we planned. In the end the 20,000B we pay a month has been completely worth it for a comfortable place to work, separate bedroom, kitchen (rare in Thai apartments), gym, and our gorgeous pool.

Our apartment pool
Our apartment pool

Our electricity and water bills are charged per usage. We use our air con quite frequently and our electricity bill increases in the hotter months. Some apartments include internet but we have to pay per computer (very annoying).

Food

Pad Thai Rod Tum Yum at Pun Pun
Pad Thai Rod Tum Yum at Pun Pun restaurant costs $1.30

We often cook for ourselves and buying vegetables, fruit, rice, noodles, and tofu from the local market is very cheap. But we also splurge on bread and cheese from the supermarket which is a lot more expensive.

Although street food can be found for around $1 a meal we prefer our favourite vegetarian restaurants where we might pay $2 for a dish. We also eat Western food which is definitely more expensive but being here for so long we need some variety in our diet (and Simon can’t survive without pizza). A pizza or large burrito costs around $5.

Other indulgences are Simon’s cappuccinos and frappuccinos, and cookies and cakes from the Butter is Better bakery which is dangerously near to our apartment.

Chocolate cake at Charcoa Cafe
Chocolate cake at Charcoa Cafe costs $2.60

Motorbike Rental

Us on a moped, Chiang Mai
Us on our moped

Chiang Mai is a compact city and it’s possible to manage by walking and taking inexpensive songthaew but we love the freedom of our moped and it’s so much fun! We pay 2400B for monthly rental of our 125cc automatic scooter, but it is possible to find one for less.

Entertainment

Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh

Our entertainment spending is very low because we rarely drink alcohol. Most of the socialising we do is at restaurants and those costs are included in our food budget. We do go to the cinema at times which costs about $3 each. We also enjoy free activities like hanging out by our pool or visiting the local wats (temples). Trips to nearby lakes, waterfalls, and botanical gardens don’t cost much either.

Other Expenses

There are some extra expenses that we haven’t included above as we don’t have them every month.

  • We have extended our visa twice in six months which costs 1900B/ $62 per person each time. This gives us an extra month on each entry of our two month tourist visa.
  • We did a visa run once after three months to activate the second entry of our visa. The cost of this depends on where you go.  We rode our moped to the Burmese border at Mae Sai which cost about 450B in petrol, 500B each to enter Burma, and 400B for a hotel in Chiang Rai. In total the two day trip (not including food) was 925B/ $30 per person.
  • Medical care is very inexpensive here but the quality is excellent. I’ve been to the doctors a number of times. A basic examination is $7 and a blood test costs from $15.
  • A haircut was about $7.50 each.

Even including some extras we can live very comfortably in Chiang Mai for $1500/ £944 a month for two people. It’s definitely an inexpensive place to live, even if you don’t choose the cheapest accommodation and food options.

Read our detailed guide to living in Chiang Mai for everything you need to know. 

The reason we’ve spent so long in Chiang Mai isn’t the low cost of living though. It’s a very comfortable and easy place to live which is just what we needed to focus on work. We love the food, the weather, the friendly Thai people, the rich and fascinating culture, the mountain views, and the youthful vibe. It has been the perfect base for the last five months and although we’ll be leaving soon, we’ll miss it.

We track our travel expenses using our iOS app Trail Wallet. It’s designed especially for travellers so you can set a daily or trip budget, quickly add expenses while you are out and about in all world currencies (and see how much it costs in your home currency), and see which categories you’re spending the most cash on with the pie chart.

It even makes budgeting fun with a range of themes and characters. Join over 150,000 other travellers and try Trail Wallet for free from the App store

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75 Comments

  1. Thank you for a very informative and encouraging site. We are looking at retiring in Thailand and hope to be there soon. With all our children grown up and spread across the world it sounds like a great solution to being in an accessable and facinating place for them to visit us.

    • Thailand would be a great place to retire. There were plenty of retirees in Chiang Mai and you can live very comfortably. I hope you make it there soon.

  2. Wonderful apartment…great finds all around. As usual, we a blown away! David and Veronica

  3. I am glad that I stumbled upon your blog. I love how you are documenting not “travels”, per se, but a rich and rewarding lifestyle! Chiang Mai sounds awesome, I may have to add it to my list. I spent 7 weeks in Japan last year (mostly up north in Sapporo), and absolutely loved it. In about 6 weeks I am leaving the U.S. on what will be an around the world trip of at least a few months, but I’ve been thinking for some time that I simply won’t come back, except to visit.

    Love what you’re doing, and thank you so much for sharing your life with the web! :)

  4. This is a great example of what you can get in Thailand. It took me 18 months to figure the cheese thing out, just go to Macro and buy it by the kilo 800b gets you two months supply. I’m just starting to like Chiang Mai slowly after a few visits. I settled on it’s little sister Chiang Rai. The only thing we dont have here is a community of people working online, apart from that Chiang Rai rocks let me know if your in my neck of the woods some time.. 089-263-8286

  5. Your pool does look fantastic. But I think we save a lot by not having a pool and not being within walking distance of any pricey cafes!
    I do love it here, though. I’m going to miss Chiang Mai a lot when we move on.

  6. Great breakdown and useful one as well – I plan to move to CM in September so this info is pure gold. My monthly budget is lower (around $1k), but I all by myself so it shouldn’t be a problem :)

    Kacmi
    1000 Calorie Challenge

  7. Well, now I will have a special budget set aside just for this. Why not? Pinch pennies everywhere else and kill it in Chang Mai.

    Great Article!

  8. I love Chiang Mai but we wouldn’t move from Nakhon Sawan because there is too much to potentially blow your money on. N.S is a typical Thai town with nothing to blow cash on. There is a KFC and a Pizza Company and thats it for Western food! We’re working here and saving for our travels. As a result we don’t have a pool but the park and free gym is 2 minutes walk away. We have more than we need and live comfortably on less than 10,000 baht a month between the two of us. Perhaps because we are fresh out of uni and used to saving our pennies it makes it a bit easier for us. Even so, interesting to hear how the other half live ; )

    • It’s definitely possible to live in Thailand for much cheaper. We are in our early 30s and work online from our apartment so have different priorities. Chiang Mai definitely has a lot of temptations!

  9. Amazing! I’m considering spending half a year or so abroad with my youngest daughter. Chiang Mai sounds almost too good to pass up.

    • It’s a great place to live for a while and there are plenty of expat families here too.

  10. Great info! I don’t like the idea of living at rock bottom budget conditions but I definitely like to save money, so this is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!